Tired of Cooking

I am sick of using cookbook labs in my chemistry class and want my students to conduct more inquiry labs. However, my principal thinks that this might be a recipe for disaster. What do other chemistry teachers do to incorporate more inquiry into their chemistry labs?
—R., Kansas

I spent several years using cookbook labs and being frustrated that students had no clue what they were supposed to be learning, did not understand their data and were constantly worried if they got the ‘right’ answers!

One of the simplest ways to convert a cookbook lab into an introduction to inquiry is to cut off your pre-lab handout after the materials section! So, the students have an introduction, a purpose, and a list of materials they can use but they have to figure out the rest. How they will perform the experiment, what they will measure, what variables to control and manipulate, how they will record and present the data is all up to them (with your approval)! With the scaffold at the beginning and a list of materials there is less ‘mayhem’ but the students are thinking, analyzing, predicting, and doing all that neat nature of science stuff. They will need to make sense of their data and determine the best way to communicate their results.

Later on you can have the students investigate questions they, themselves, have about a phenomenon or topic you’re teaching by creating their own labs from scratch. Now you’re at a full-blown inquiry.

Hope this helps!

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One Comment

  1. Harry E. Keller
    Posted March 8, 2019 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    The most important part is making sense of the data. Real data have errors that can obscure the interpretation.

    Do not tell students what to expect. If you do, then they will “adjust” their data to meet your expectations. They will lose out on the data interpretation part.

    Do not worry about students becoming “lost” as they struggle to figure out what their results mean. Finding their way when lost provides a crucial experience for students. Help them only by asking questions, not by providing answers.

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